Monday, March 31, 2008

For My Teacher

A phone call.
I listened.
I panicked.
It isn't true.

I haven't met her for the past one year. I was going to meet her soon. I had to tell her I'm working now. That I've made it through. That I have missed her these past few years. That I think of her so often. That I speak of her so often. That my friends know of my teacher who could transform an ordinary class into a mind-bending exercise . And that when they tell me how lucky I am I know exactly what they mean.

Four years of history, life, the universe and everything else. The mad-frenzy of G.S Elections, an unreal year with the Students' Executive, innumerable mornings of reading the news, chalo bhor ke raahi , scanning the paper for anecdotes and discoveries from bygone eras, projects on Sufi music and British memsahibs, bulletin boards, the cold war, We Didn't Start The Fire, panel discussions on Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the controversial history textbooks, the refrain of songs sung again and again in class and in the choir, taking frantic notes in class trying to keep up with her, classes in the warm sun on a winter's day, a card from her on children's day that spoke volumes, a note from her in a paper, the collective gasp of surprise when we got to know she was an F1 enthusiast, the steady stream of seniors who came by every now and then - always to meet her in particular, the stories of her students which she told and re-told a million times, her laughing eyes and animated hands, a yearbook , more songs, diya ceremony and a farewell that ended with karavaan chal diya, door ke desh ko, aur khamosh hum, dekhte reh gaye.

We learnt from her but she never failed to remind us that after more than two decades of teaching she was learning too. From us.

My memory of her was so much in conflict with what was in front of me. A small shred of the person i knew- we all knew. To see her simply lie there motionless was a reality I did not want to accept. I walked up to her to say goodbye, but i couldn't. To say goodbye would mean letting go. And I wasn't ready. Tears flowed not so much in sorrow but in sheer disbelief. In anger and pain at the thought of one such as her silenced by death. An unbearable lightness.

Death. The only certainty. And yet its coming leaves us powerless against the stark truth. She is gone. But even so, her spirit is too big and too free to be contained by the finality of death. I hope she finds peace. A place to rest with her books, Michael Schumacher, music, maps, questions and a window to look out of.

If the universe really is made of stories, then Chitra ma'am's stories will glow in the dark.

with love, gratitude and warm memories of times well spent. you are missed.


tej said...

histroy is many a time overlooked more so are the teachers of me, heavenly fortunate are those who come to have acquintance with those teachers of history or anything who rather than teaching it, tell it as a tale or a fable.i say this for i know the dearth if it.and they live long, the impressions of a person who is composed of stories.death,i think, is an unsettling reminder of this.

Pinkeagle said...

Again :(. Well said. It's so hard to think of her not being there, even though I just spoke to her once a year or so, if that.

Sine Qua Non said...

Fresh tears.
She has to have known.In life and now, in death; of how much she is loved and of how many lives she changed. It has to have made things easier...I need to believe that.

VV said...

Dear Mandakini,

I am Chitra Ma’am’s brother.

Thank you so much for the beautiful sentiments that you have expressed. We have been searching the net these past 2 weeks looking for such blog entries for it is in this expression of love for your dear Chitra Ma’am that we look for solace and comfort.

Her sudden passing away has left us all devastated but you her “children” have certainly been a source of strength for us. We found strength in the dignified assembly of her grieving young students who turned up for her cremation and who waited patiently as the last rites were slightly delayed awaiting the arrival of some family members, thankful it seemed for the few extra moments with their beloved Chitra Ma’am. We found strength in the spontaneous outpouring of love and affection for her at the memorial service held at SPV. And every day we find strength in reading blogs like this one – every other day a new one of these shows up.

You probably do not need me to tell you this but you were all very special to her and she was very proud of every one of you and every one of your accomplishments. When the priest who was to do the final ceremonies in Bangalore asked me if she had any children, I found myself telling him yes, she had hundreds of them.

Thanks again for writing about her. I do have request of you. Please keep this blog intact for as long as you can for this is something to be treasured. Some of us will surely come back to visit it on a future day, reread these words and be filled with a sense of joy and a celebration of her life instead of the sadness and despair we feel today at our loss.

Mandakini said...

Dear VV,
I am hoping you will return to this blog and read this since I have no other way of reaching you...

I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this. She has been one of the most important people in my life and I can only hope she knows just how many lives she has touched. I am proud to have known her.

Thank you for your words. I cherish them. I hope you and her family find peace in the knowledge that Chitra ma'am will be loved and remembered fondly by so many people. It is she who continues to be a source of strength for me.

My deepest regards and heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

VV said...

Thanks, Mandakini.

I am certain Chitra knew that she was well loved by her students and even by some of their parents.

My other sister (who in her own right is quite accomplished and recognized in her profession) once told me that it is an experience to go to an event in Delhi with Chitra. Chitra would usually get mobbed by former students and parents. For her part she kept track of them even after they graduated from school. As I said before, she was mighty proud of their accomplishments.

While we knew that she was a special and dedicated teacher, what some of us did not know was that she had a legion of admirers from around the world whose lives she had touched in one way or another. Perhaps, she felt that to speak to us about this would somehow seem boastful.

It really helps the healing process knowing what a difference she made.